Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Premiere: Ben Bateman’s “Don’t Breathe a Word”

July 24, 2017

Don’t Breathe a Word” is a lovely, fingerpicked singer/songwriter tune that hits all the right buttons. Fans of the genre will note that Ben Bateman‘s high tenor vocal tone shares qualities with Brett Dennen and Passenger.

The tune could work for either artist, as well. The dreamy, reverb-heavy guitar tone and delicate mood echo Dennen’s careful touch, while the structure of the lines in the lyrics and the subtle vocal delivery reminds me of Passenger. Some subtle bass work fills out the piece to give it some heft. Overall, it’s a light, airy, romantic piece that would fit as the soundtrack to a lazy summer day,swinging in a hammock or lying down in the grass.

While you can hear the song in advance on YouTube above, it hits digital outlets on July 31st. It’s the first of six songs Bateman will be releasing monthly over the next half-year. If you can’t wait that long to hear more from him, he’ll be doing some live dates soon:

November 3rd: Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough
December 1st Great British Folk Festival

Premiere: Chris Wills’ “Since You Said Goodbye”

June 29, 2017

Chris Wills’ “Since You Said Goodbye” is a folk-pop tune anchored by an unusually syncopated bass drum pattern in the chorus that is punched way up in the mix. You might think to yourself, “How is there percussion in a folk-pop song that isn’t just whacking a tom on the 1 and 3?” or “Who pushes the bass drum all the way to the top of the mix?” Well, friends, listen and find out.

Beyond the percussion, Wills’ vocal performance is a highlight. His voice has a post-pop-punk tone–you can still hear some of the nasally, yelpy enthusiasm–that allows him to give the song energy just with his performance but also include more sophisticated vocal moves, such as subtle vibrato and small intonation shifts that give individual lines more emotional heft. The combination of the vocal performance and the unusual drum pattern gives a big lift to this folk-pop song, which has connections to The Lumineers, Twin Forks, and more brash, bold folksters.

This is a fun, interesting tune that serves to tease his upcoming EP quite well. “Since You Said Goodbye” will be on the This Place Ain’t For Me EP, which comes out August 11.

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Premiere: JPH’s “Song 7” video

May 18, 2017

(Sorry about the downtime! Something got corrupted and we were out of commission for a while. It’s good to be back. Many thanks to Chris Krycho for the technical assistance needed in getting us back online.)

Last year I was totally enamored with JPH’s Songs of Loss. The album is a singular wonder: a fully-realized turn of a musician putting strong songwriting powers to the difficult subject of personal grief. The sonics are adventurous but humble, the lyrics are raw, and the whole product comes off as a unique experience. There are a lot of unexpected left turns, sonically. JPH has given me the great honor of premiering the video for “Song 7” from the album today. Like the album, it’s a hushed, delicate piece that throws a different light (or lack thereof) on the subject of mourning.

The video is simple: a dancer in an almost-dark room moves gracefully. Sarah Ingel is never seen head to toe; the camera frames her at odd angles and casts her motions in unusual ways. The music takes its time starting (almost fifteen seconds of silence), and then ends mid-video; Ingel continues dancing in silence for almost two minutes after the song is over. She eventually fades away from the screen, flickering, here and there, and then gone. Grief does feel like that–it keeps going long after the events surrounding a death are over, emerging in fits and starts, in unexpected moments, in unexpected ways. It’s startling and even somewhat uncomfortable to keep watching a video in silence; that rupture of the normal further cements the connection between the video and its subject matter. It’s an unconventional music video for an unconventional album, and it works beautifully.

You can purchase the whole Songs of Loss album here. JPH is playing American Babylon this week (May 15-21), so you can catch his work there as well.

Premiere: “Sun & Air” by Hybird

February 10, 2017

Jonny Rodgers (Cindertalk) is starting up a new record label called Off Atlas, and artists who are getting involved are catching my ear. Beyond Cindertalk’s ever-interesting work, The Soldier Story and now Hybird have joined up.

Hybird’s  “Sun and Air” is a delicate-yet-weighty indie-pop track, with songwriter Ravi Krishnaswami balancing left-hand piano chords against glockenspiel lead melodies and wavering, trebly electric guitar lines.

The song builds from humble beginnings to a big conclusion, but the tune never feels expansive; even at the apex of the final crescendo, the song sounds more claustrophobic than grand. Krishnaswami’s twee-sounding voice contributes to the feeling of nearness, as its hushed, twee tone makes the vocal melodies drip with vulnerability.

This pervasive sense of intimate closeness, even a little too much closeness, mirrors the lyrics. Written while Krishnaswami’s wife was in bad condition at a hospital, the words try to grapple with the many emotions and fears of having a loved one in an uncertain state. The titular elements are given to the sick loved one “to stay with you / when I’m not there,” a heartbreaking situation to be in. (But yet, the hope of the sun and air!) These uncertainties and tensions match the song’s sonic quality, which shines in the light of hope amid the darkness of a minor key arrangement. Overall, the tune shows a careful attention to the contours of how an arrangement and lyrics fit together, creating an evocative, memorable tune. Fans of Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era work or William Fitzsimmons’ delicate-yet-devastating work will find much to love here.

Hybird’s debut album Gemini will be out in 2017 via Off Atlas. Krishnaswami will perform this tune and others at the Vermont College of Fine Arts singer/songwriter showcase tonight. Check out VCFA’s social media for more info (including maybe a livestream/livetweet?).

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Premiere: Nicholas Roberts’ “River to a Flood”

February 2, 2017

Nichoals Roberts’ Springbok Sessions video for “River to a Flood” sets him in nature, hanging out in the grounds behind the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando. It’s sunset, and there’s a hazy background that could be a lake, a river, or some other wide expanse. The serene conditions are a perfect match for Roberts’ delicate, almost crystalline tune; his whisper-folk voice meshes seamlessly over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. There are traces of William Fitzsimmons’ hushed intensity here, as well as Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan-era elegies. The results are magnificent; it’s a beautiful rendition of an excellent song.

You can keep up with Nicholas’ upcoming tourdates on Facebook or Twitter.

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Premiere: Alex Dezen’s “Everything’s Great (Everything’s Terrible)”

January 25, 2017

I didn’t listen too much to The Damnwells, but those who did are well acquainted with frontman Alex Dezen. He’s recently gone solo, giving him freedom to experiment with sounds. The whole album is intriguing, with Dezen exploring swampy rock’n’roll, synth-pop, folk-pop, indie-pop, and more. All of it is built around his lithe, assured vocal delivery; no matter what the vehicle, Dezen’s vocals and melodies shine.

That’s true of “Everything’s Great (Everything’s Terrible),” where Dezen pulls off Graceland-style African-influenced pop with ease. Fans of Paul Simon’s masterpiece will find themselves headbobbing along to Dezen’s long vocal lines, extended verse lengths, and bubbly arrangements. The melodies are chipper, sunny, and smile-inducing, which (purposefully) contrasts with the less-happy lyrics. (Much, as you may remember, Paul Simon did in Graceland.)

This isn’t a rip-off, though–Dezen’s melodic sensibility pushes through the instruments and the vocals, keeping up the unique flavor that sets it apart from other artists and meshes it with the rest of the album. As with Graceland, the instrumental musicianship should not be lost amid the joie de vivre of the melodies and the complexity of the lyrics against that backdrop. The arrangement sells this song with consummate, professional ease. Dezen’s instrumental prowess shows here, as he plays almost all the parts on this track. Overall, the tune is a blast of pop that you just can’t beat on a warm day.

Dezen’s album II drops February 3 on Poor Man Records. You can pre-order it here.

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Premiere: MAITA’s “Kinder than Most”

January 6, 2017

Ah, 2017! I’m pleased to be starting the new year with a fantastic song to premiere.

MAITA is a Portland-based songwriter who has turned out an exciting chamber-folk tune in “Kinder than Most.” MAITA’s lilting alto leads the way: her range and notes are carefully controlled, but the engaging, intriguing swoops and leaps of her vocal melodies give the song a bit of a woozy cast. The arrangement is almost the definition of chamber-folk, as pizzicato strings, precise-yet-round bass, gentle percussion, and subtle acoustic guitar mesh together into an arrangement that feels by turns spartan and lush.

It would be a crime not to mention the excellent engineering here, which takes all these beautiful parts and makes them sound as if they’re happening a foot away from me. In that way, it’s a fully realized song: the vocals, arrangement, and engineering all come together perfectly to create a top-shelf tune. Fans of Dana Sipos’ stark folk will find much to love here, while fans of My Brightest Diamond will hear echoes that draw them in (albeit folky echoes).

“Kinder than Most” comes from Maita’s debut EP Waterbearer, which comes out 1/27. You can pre-order it now.  I’m very much looking forward to reviewing the full release shortly.

Premiere: Jake McKelvie’s “Rhinestone Busboy”

November 18, 2016

The last time IC checked in with Jake McKelvie, he was blasting off at rocket speed over folk-punk strumming. If the title track/first single of McKelvie’s new EP The Rhinestone Busboy is any indication, this release is going to be a lot different.

“Rhinestone Busboy” is a pristine, walking-speed country shuffle with indie arranging tendencies, much like Clem Snide’s work. Over a brushed snare shuffle and unhurried acoustic strum, warm keys and electric guitar with vintage-style reverb settings ring out in a precise yet charming method. The engineering is bright and sharp, which results in a very effective fusion of the traditional with the modern.

The delicate, carefully constructed arrangement is matched by McKelvie’s languid, easygoing vocal delivery–he’s perfectly at ease here, allowing his voice to have all sorts of honest, subtle emotional inflections. The lyrics tell a story of a romantic reconnection that actually turned into ships passing in the night–a tale with more twists and turns than I’d expect from the musical style. But even in simplicity, McKelvie can draw out complexity. It’s a fascinating track that calls for repeated listens and has me quite excited for the full EP, which drops December 20.

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Premiere: Kyle Cox’s “Trusty Ol’ Pair of Boots”

September 21, 2016

Kyle Cox‘s “Trusty Ol’ Pair of Boots” is an old-school train-whistle country song, complete with traditional bass work (love me some standup here), vocal harmonies galore, and even a guitar solo. The vocal melodies are familiar and warm, but not derivative; the love song lyrics are simple, earnest, and a perfect fit for the song. It’s basically everything good about country music.

So to make that excellent song even better, Cox paired it with a charmingly simple video. Instead of going to high-drama lengths (which wouldn’t fit the song at all), Cox recruited his wife to play HORSE on the basketball court outside their house. The very pedestrian yet fun and funny activity matches the candor of the tune, which is a pledge of steadfast marital allegiance. Some people would chafe at hearing their relationship called a trusty ol’ pair of boots, but those who wouldn’t are going to understand both the song and the video. I love it all.

Also, I just really like basketball.

Kyle Cox’s Trio and Friends came out in June; you can pick it up at iTunes. He’s got a bunch of shows through the South coming up, so you should check him out on those. Maybe you’ll get to play some hoops with him.

Premiere: A Valley Son’s Sunset Park

August 9, 2016

avalleyson_sunsetpark

I’m the sort of Dawes fan that considers “When My Time Comes” an absolute essential for a successful Dawes concert. The major-key romp is tied for “Little Bit of Everything” as my favorite tune in Dawes’ oeuvre, even though most of their work (and basically every bit of All Your Favorite Bands) sounds more like Laurel Canyon laid-back country. So it’s with great excitement that I’ve discovered A Valley Son‘s Sunset Park, which is six tracks of enthusiastic full-band alt-country with lots of American roots rock thrown in.

After a scene-setting instrumental intro, AVS kicks it in with the fuzzed-out guitar and blaring organ of “In the Low Light of the Late Afternoon.” “Low Light” is a song of youthful excess and bravado, matched in fervor by Trey Powell’s confident vocals. Powell’s low tenor is lithe and adaptable: he swings from observant to mocking to self-deprecating in rapid succession, selling each change with subtle intonations and careful delivery. He can also throw down a joyful chorus: the refrain here is one that I’ve been humming for days, as much for its enthusiasm as its melodic quality. Powell shows off his versatile vocals elsewhere in the more straight-ahead rock song “Lights in the Sky” (which we premiered) and the careening closing ballad “Shaken, Abrupt.”

The latter tune is a particularly valuable turn instrumentally as well; it shows off another side of the band after four midtempo rock songs. The band knows how to crank out the rock: they can turn out zinging lead guitar lines (“Dark Places”), chunky bass runs (“Sunset Park”), and mood-setting drums (“Lights in the Sky”) with ease. Most of this EP was recorded live, and it really shows. Instead of sounding clinically precise, the songs roll and lunge along in a satisfying way. The closing instrumental salvo of “Lights in the Sky” feels raw and organic, like a band having such a good time that they’re going to run it back some more. I can’t help but get behind a band like that.

But about “Shaken, Abrupt,” the color tune in a clutch of strong rockers: while it does have some guitar theatrics toward the end, this one relies less on the band and more on Powell’s vocals and electric rhythm guitar. Powell is up to the challenge, as he delivers a confident vocal line over a guitar performance that doesn’t get in the way. Powell’s howls here aren’t of the abrasive type that Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) conjures up, but the two vocalists share a propensity to just go for it on a big, sweeping line. That quality gives this and all the rest of the tunes a distinct character which points towards good things for the band.

A Valley Son’s debut EP establishes them as a band to watch. Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages. At the moment, they’ve created six tunes that are satisfying in a variety of ways. Sunset Park drops today. You can check the band out in New York over the next few weeks:

August 10th, Sofar Sounds NYC
August 13th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY (Album Release)
August 26th, Rockwood Music Hall, NY, NY

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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